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Reuben Wilson: Reuben Wilson: Blue Mode – 1969

Marc Davis BY

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More pop than jazz, more funk than bop, Blue Mode catches the Sly Stone vibe. Higher, indeed.
1969 was the grooviest year in a very groovy decade. The Beatles, on the verge of a breakup, urged everyone to get back and come together. The Temptations couldn't get next to you. And Sly Stone took everyone higher at Woodstock.

At that very moment, in the waning days of 1969, Reuben Wilson funked us up with a classic acid-jazz album called Blue Mode.

If you remember 1969, you already know what Blue Mode sounds like, even if you've never heard a lick of it. This is an album created by someone who was definitely listening to James Brown and Otis Redding, with side orders of Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff.

More pop than jazz, more funk than bop, Blue Mode catches the Sly Stone vibe. Higher, indeed.

Granted, organ jazz is an acquired taste. Some never get it. Early Jimmy Smith sounds positively weird, if you're not already tuned to the vibe. Eventually, Smith got the blues bug and created classics with some fantastic guitarists and saxmen.

This is something different—a mashup of Chicken Shack blues and pop-funk Booker T and the MG's. The quartet—Wilson on organ, John Manning on tenor, Melvin Sparks on guitar and Tommy Derrick—swing like crazy. The album is part of Blue Note's Rare Grooves series, which gives you some idea where it fits in the label's storied history.

This band would have fit in perfectly at Woodstock, maybe right before Santana.

Every song features a catchy riff and playful solos. The album includes a pair of Motown/Stax covers (Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood" and Edwin Starr's "Twenty-Five Miles") and a few hard-edged, wailing sax solos that definitely borrow from Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and John Coltrane. We don't hear Sparks' guitar enough, but when we do, it's rockin.'

Blue Mode is classic Blue Note on its last legs. In the '50s, Blue Note was home to the best hard bop of all time. In the '60s, it birthed soul-jazz. And as the '60s slid into the '70s, just before the old Blue Note died, it was a swirling nest of acid jazz.

If you like your jazz with funk verging on rock, Reuben Wilson and Blue Mode are for you. They are certifiably groovy.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Not hard to find, but not plentiful either

Cost: $10 used, $17 new

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